About 1.3 million Americans are of Greek descent and have the majority live in New York City, Boston, and Chicago. However, Tarpon Springs, Florida is home to the highest per capita representation of Greek Americans in the country (11%).
In 1768 about 500 Greeks from Smyrna, Crete, and Mani settled in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. The colony was unsuccessful, and the settlers moved to St. Augustine in 1776. The first significant Greek community to settle in the U.S. was in New Orleans, Louisiana during the 1850s. By 1866, the community was numerous and prosperous enough to have a Greek consulate and the first official Greek Orthodox Church in the United States. Immigration picked up again in the 1890s and early 20th century, due largely to economic opportunity in the U.S. Most of these immigrants worked in the northeastern cities in the United States; while others labored on railroad construction and in the mines of the western states. Many Greek immigrants expected to work and return to their homeland after earning capital and dowries for their families. However, due to conflicts between Greece and Turkey, Greek immigrants lost the right to return to their homeland and were made refugees. Additionally, in 1924 the first widely implemented U.S. immigration limit against non-Western European immigrants created an impetus for immigrants to apply for citizenship and permanently settle in the U.S.
Greeks began to arrive in large numbers after 1945, fleeing the economic devastation caused by World War II and the Greek Civil War. From 1946 until 1982, approximately 211,000 Greeks emigrated to the United States. In the aftermath of the recent Greek financial crisis, there has been a resurgence of Greek emigration to New York City with the majority of the immigrants settling in Astoria, Queens.
As immigrants from various Greek areas, they settled in different regions of the United States and became “Greek Americans”. Many of their traditional foods and recipes depended on the availability of those ingredients in the U.S. so these recipes often developed into new traditions. For example, Greek Salad is called Horiatiki in Greece and the salad is made with feta and cucumber, but no lettuce—only the Greek American version of the salad contains lettuce. Greek cuisine has certainly influenced American cuisine not only with the popularity of Greek salad but also with foods like gyros, souvlaki, and baklava.
Contemporary Greek cooking makes wide use of olive oil, vegetables and herbs, grains and bread, wine, fish, and meats that include lamb, poultry, rabbit and pork. Also important are olives, cheese, eggplant (aubergine), zucchini (courgette), and yogurt. Greek desserts are usually made with nuts and honey.
Below are some traditional Greek recipes for you to try.
Spanakopita (Spinach Triangles)
10 sheets of phyllo dough
500g spinach washed and roughly chopped (18 ounces)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 eggs, beaten
200g feta cheese, crumbled (7 ounces)
Pinch of grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
Melted butter for the pastry
Salt and pepper to taste
Sauté the onions in the olive oil until soft and turning golden. Add the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the spinach in batches and cook until wilted. Let the mixture cool down in a colander to drain. Pour into a mixing bowl. Mix in the feta cheese, eggs, nutmeg, dill, salt, and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Spread one sheet of the phyllo dough on the kitchen counter and keep the rest covered with a cloth.
With a cooking brush drizzle some melted butter on the phyllo sheet on the counter. Spread one more sheet on top and drizzle with some more butter.
Cut the phyllo sheets in 3-4 lengthwise pieces (depending on if you like the spanakopita triangles to be small or larger). At the end of each piece add one tablespoon of the filling. Fold one corner over the filling to form a triangle and continue folding the triangle upon itself, until the entire piece of phyllo is used. Continue with the rest of the phyllo sheets and filling.
Oil the bottom of a large baking dish, place the spanakopita triangles in the dish and brush them with more melted butter. Bake in the preheated oven at 25-30 minutes, until golden and crispy. Serve with Tzatziki Sauce.
Greek Tzatziki Sauce
1 cup plain Greek Yogurt
2 teaspoons fresh dill chopped
1/2 cup cucumber, peeled and seeded
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic, grated
Chop the cucumber into tiny pieces, place in a colander and sprinkle lightly with salt. Let drain for 20 minutes. Squeeze dry in a paper towel. Place in a mixing bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for several hours.
Grilled Zucchini and Lamb Chops
1 large zucchini
4 loin lamb chops
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried Greek seasoning or oregano
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Cut the zucchini into quarters. Combine the marinade ingredients in a ziplock food storage bag. Give it a shake. Add the lamb and zucchini, seal the bag and marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
Preheat an outdoor or stovetop grill. Place the lamb and zucchini quarters on the grill and cook for 4-5 minutes on each side. Remove to a serving platter and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
1 cup couscous
1 cup of water
1/2 cup diced roasted red peppers
1/2 cup diced sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 oz crumbled feta cheese
1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Prepare couscous as directed on the package. (Boil the water, add couscous, stir quickly. remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes). Do not add butter and salt.
In a large bowl, mix peppers, tomatoes, and olives together well. Add couscous and stir with a fork to fluff the couscous.
Add the oil, pine nuts, and feta and stir gently to combine. Sprinkle with parsley.
Grilled Lamb Chops
4 loin lamb chops, about 1 ¼ lb total
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 large garlic cloves, sliced
1 teaspoon Greek seasoning store-bought (or combine equal parts of coarse salt, Turkish oregano, garlic, dried lemon zest, black pepper, and marjoram and use 1 teaspoon in this recipe)
Place the lamb chops in a medium ziplock bag with the marinade ingredients. Seal the bag, shake and store the bag in the refrigerator for several hours before grilling.
To grill the lamb chops:
Preheat an outdoor or stovetop grill. Oil the grill.
Remove the chops from the marinade and grill them over medium-high heat, turning once, until medium-rare, about 3 minutes on each side.
Transfer the chops to a serving platter and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges, the Greek Salad, Tzatziki, and grilled pita.
Greek Vegetable Salad
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut in large dice
1 large tomato, seeded and cut in large dice
4 -5 pepperoncini, seeded and cut in large dice
1/4 of a red onion, cut in large dice
12 Greek olives
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/3 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano or Greek seasoning
1/2 teaspoon honey
In a serving bowl, combine the cucumber, tomato, pepperoncini, onions, olives, and feta cheese. In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine the dressing ingredients; shake well. Drizzle over salad and toss to coat. Serve with a slotted spoon.
Makes 1 cup
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and grated
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1 scallion, minced
1/2 cup plain whole milk Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 cloves garlic grated
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh dill finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon za’atar or dried oregano
Place the grated cucumber in a fine-mesh sieve and sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon salt and drain for about 30 minutes.
In a mixing bowl, combine yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, black pepper, ¼ teaspoon salt, parsley, and oregano or za’atar and stir to combine.
Add the cucumber to the yogurt mixture and stir to combine.
Cover and refrigerate for about an hour before serving to allow the flavors to develop.
Grilled Pita Bread
A very good tasting low carb mini pita (4g net carbs) is made by Joseph’s Middle East Bakery
2 small (mini) pita bread
Lightly brush both sides of each pita with olive oil. Sprinkle with a little za’atar. Place on the grill for 1 minute, turn them over and grill for 1 minute more. Serve with the Tzatziki Sauce.
Dinner For Two:
Grilled Lamb Chops And Peppers
Make the marinade early in the day.
1 whole lemon, washed, seeded, and chopped
2 large sprig of fresh rosemary, leaves removed
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Lamb & Peppers
4 loin lamb chops, trimmed of extra fat
1 lb mixed peppers
Salt & Pepper to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil
To make the marinade:
Place the chopped lemon, rosemary, garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil in a food processor. A blender can also be used. If you have neither, finely chop all ingredients together.
Spread and massage the lemon paste evenly over the lamb chops. Place in a baking dish and cover, or use a large resealable plastic bag. Refrigerate for several hours before cooking.
Preheat an outdoor grill or a stovetop grill pan. Oil the grill grates.
To grill the peppers:
If using a grill pan for the lamb chops, place the peppers under a broiler and turn until charred on all sides.
Grill the peppers, turning occasionally, until charred all over, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let steam for 15 minutes. Peel and seed the peppers, then cut into thin strips and season with salt and pepper.
To grill the lamb chops
Remove the chops from the marinade and grill them over medium-high heat, turning once, until medium-rare, about 3 minutes on each side. Transfer the chops to one side of a serving platter and let rest for 5 minutes. Transfer the grilled peppers to the other side of the platter and drizzle with olive oil.
Old Fashioned Potato Salad
Serves 2. Double the ingredients for extra servings.
1 pound small Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons mixed chopped herbs, such as dill, parsley, basil, chives and thyme
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 celery stalk, chopped
2 scallions (green onions), chopped
Put potatoes into a pot, cover with salted water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 8 to 10 minutes. Be careful not to overcook. Test for doneness by inserting a fork into a potato chunk. It should slide in easily without breaking apart the potato. Immediately drain well and let cool 10 minutes.
Gently toss potatoes with sour cream, mayonnaise, mustard, herbs, lemon juice, celery, onion, salt, and pepper. Cover and chill before serving.
Summer Fresh Tomato Salad
½ cup diced red onion
1 1/2 pounds ripe red tomatoes, cut into wedges
Shredded fresh basil leaves
½ teaspoon salt, divided
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
For the dressing, in a small bowl whisk together the mustard, vinegar, pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Gradually whisk in the olive oil.
Place the onion, tomatoes and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt in a salad serving bowl. Toss with the salad dressing. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours, stirring occasionally.
Grilled Lamb Chops For Dinner
4 loin lamb chops
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced.
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon dried oregano
Place all the ingredients in a ziplock bag and place the bag in the refrigerator for several hours.
Bring to room temperature before cooking.
Heat an outdoor grill and oil the grill grates.
Place the lamb on the grill and cook 4-5 minutes on each side. Remove to a serving platter and let rest 5 minutes before serving.
8 large mushroom caps, stems removed
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
¼ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
¼ teaspoon red chili flakes
½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Place 2-3 slices of firm bread in the processor and pulse until crumbs form. Combine the crumbs the remaining filling ingredients in a small mixing bowl. Stuff the caps with the mixture and place them in a small, oiled baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil.
Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Bake the mushrooms for 20 minutes or until the crumbs are golden brown.
Asparagus Wrapped in Prosciutto
1 bunch thin asparagus spears (about 20-21 spears)
10 very thin slices Prosciutto de Palma
Coarse black pepper
Bundle 4 asparagus together and wrap each in two slices of prosciutto. Place the bundles on an oiled baking sheet. Sprinkle the prosciutto wrapped spears with olive oil and black pepper. Roast in a 425 degree F oven for 20-25 minutes.
The Mediterranean countries include France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal along the north; Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel on the east; and the African countries of Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia on the south. The Mediterranean countries utilize many of the same ingredients but each country has a unique way of creating recipes with those same ingredients. So far in this series, I have written about Mediterranean cuisine in general and about the countries of Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Turkey. This series continues with the country of Syria.
Think Mediterranean diet and Italian and Greek food comes to mind. But the Mediterranean coastline spans thousands more miles throughout the Middle Eastern countries like Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Israel. The Middle Eastern Mediterranean diet emphasizes healthy fats, lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and red wine. However, it also offers delicious and different flavors not found in southern European food, such as unique spices, tangy fruits and healthy seeds, some of which include pomegranate juice, mint, sesame and yogurt.
Syrian cuisine mainly uses eggplant, zucchini, onion, garlic, meat (mostly from lamb, mutton and poultry), dairy products, bulgur, sesame seeds, rice, chickpeas, wheat flour, pine nuts, fava beans, lentils, cabbage, cauliflower, grape leaves, pickled turnips or cucumbers, tomatoes, spinach, olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, mint, a spice mixture called “baharat mushakkaleh” (Arabic: بهارات مشكّلة), hazelnuts, pistachios, honey and fruits.
One of the many highlights of Syrian food is mezza, the tapas of the Middle East. Mezza refers to a generous spread of small dishes, mostly eaten without cutlery, using flat bread, lettuce or grape leaves to scoop up dips or to wrap portions of salad. Baba ghanouj and hummus, both well-known in the West, are key elements of a traditional mezza. Another favorite in Syria is muhammara, a spicy pepper and walnut dip made with pomegranate molasses. Salads include tabbouleh, a parsley and bulgur mix; fattoush, a crunchy cucumber, radish, tomato and herb salad topped with toasted pita; and fateh, a salad with chickpeas, yogurt, tahini and garlic. Other finger foods include baked pastries filled with meat and spices called sambusic or spinach and baked lamb pies called sfeeha. Kibbeh is the national dish and comes in many varieties with the core element being cracked wheat and fresh ground lamb or beef that is seasoned with spices.
For Syrians, presentation is everything. Making the food look appetizing and setting the table appropriately are very important. Everything, even the simplest dishes, are garnished with fresh herbs.
Syrian Recipes To Make At Home
Syrian Stuffed Grape Leaves
Adapted from a recipe from Mary Sanom
2 lbs. ground lamb or beef
1 lb. long grain white rice, uncooked
1 small onion (finely diced)
1 small green pepper (finely diced)
1 clove minced garlic
8 oz can tomato sauce
8 oz of tomato paste
10 cups water
2 teaspoons salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper to taste
Grape leaves (16 oz jar hold about 60 leaves)
Place the rice in a large bowl, pour boiling water over to cover it and let soak for 1 hour.Drain well.
Mix ground meat, soaked rice, onion, green pepper, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper and tomato sauce in large bowl.
Place enough grape leaves in the bottom of a large pot to cover the bottom of the pot.
This will keep the filled grape leaves from sticking to the pot and burning.
To fill the grape leaves:
Lay out a grape leaf with the vein side up.
Place a small amount of the meat and rice at the bottom 1/3 of the leaf, tuck in the sides of the leaves over the meat and to roll up like a cigar.
Continue rolling the grape leaves and laying them in the bottom row in the prepared pot,
When the first layer of grape leaves has lined the bottom of the pot, start the new layer in the opposite direction, so that the rows criss-cross each other. This will allow the liquid to get to all the leaves.
Keep rolling up all the leaves and stacking the layers, until there are no more leaves/or no more filling/or the pot is ¾ full.
Place a plate upside down over the leaves. This will keep the rolls from floating during cooking and coming unrolled.
Mix together the tomato paste and water. Pour the tomato/water mixture over leaves until they are just covered.
If the leaves are not covered, add additional water until they are covered.
Add a teaspoon of salt and a squeeze of half a lemon into the pot
Cover the pot with a lid and bring the leaves and liquid to a boil, then reduce heat to medium, and cook for about 30 – 45 minutes or until the meat is cooked and the leaves are tender.
Take out a roll from the top of the pot and test it. Place the grape leaves on a platter to serve.
Retain some of the cooking liquid to reheat the leftover rolls.
Aubergine Fetteh (Fetteh Beitinjaan)
Layering food on toasted bread with a yogurt sauce is a Syrian speciality.
Olive oil, for roasting and drizzling
2 flatbreads or pitas
500g plain yogurt
2 small garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbsp lemon juice
Handful of parsley, roughly chopped
Handful of pomegranate seeds
50g pine nuts, toasted
Salt, to taste
Heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas mark 4.
Cut the eggplants into quarters lengthwise, slice them into 1 inch chunks and place in a baking pan.
Pour over a generous helping of olive oil and a sprinkle with salt.
Roast in the oven for approximately 40 minutes or until the eggplant is soft.
Brush the bread with olive oil and toast in the oven for about 10 minutes until crispy. Then break it up into pieces.
In a bowl combine the yogurt, garlic and lemon juice.
Take the eggplant out of the oven and allow to cool. Place them in a shallow bowl then pour the yogurt mix on top.
When ready to serve, sprinkle with the crispy bread, parsley, pomegranate seeds and toasted pine nuts.
Spiced Fish (Samaka Harra)
6 garlic cloves, chopped
2 red chillies, finely chopped
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ cup/40g walnuts, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 whole fish, such as sea bream or snapper
1 bunch of fresh coriander, roughly chopped, including the stems
1 lemon, plus ½ lemon, sliced
Heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas mark 4. In a bowl, mix together the garlic, chilies, cumin, walnuts, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper.
Stuff the fish with this mixture, reserving two tablespoons for later, then add a handful of coriander, saving some to garnish.
Squeeze the whole lemon over both fish, with a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Let the fish marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Place the fish in a large baking pan with the remaining 2 tablespoons of stuffing on top and a couple of slices of lemon. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
Milk Pudding (Muhallabiyeh)
This is a very light dessert that is simple and can be prepared far in advance. Syrians say the name of this pudding comes from the Umayyad Prince of Damascus, Al Muhallab Ibn Abi Sufra. One day, the bored potentate ordered his servants to make him something different, a special pudding, and this is what they came up with using the only ingredients they had available – milk, sugar, starch and mastic. The pudding then became known as the ‘milk of the princes’, but commoners soon caught onto how simple it was to prepare and it became known amongst them as the ‘milk of the commons’. Today, people flavor the milk with a variety of spices, depending on each individual’s taste. This pudding has a smooth texture, with the nuts on top adding a crunch, which Syrians love.
1 quart/litre milk
1 cup/200g sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch/cornflour, mixed with water
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon rose-water or orange blossom water
2 tablespoons/20g pistachios, crushed
Rose petals, to decorate (optional)
In a saucepan, gently heat the milk and sugar over low heat, stirring regularly.
Just before it boils, add the cornstarch mix and stir constantly until it thickens, then add the vanilla and rose or orange blossom water.
Once it reaches a thick consistency, pour the mix into individual bowls or trifle glasses and let cool.
Once cool, put them in the refrigerator to set for at least 2 hours.
When ready to serve, sprinkle the tops of the pudding with the crushed pistachios and for extra color, rose petals.
Source: Syria: Recipes From Home by Itab Azzam and Dina Mousawi. Published by Trapeze.